Fiona McIntosh is making a name for herself in Australia, where all three volumes of "The Quickening" already have been released. This first volume, MYRREN'S GIFT, which recently hit shelves here in the U.S., is a stunning stateside debut that will keep you proclaiming "just one more chapter."
Fergys Thirsk is the revered general of the army of Morgravia, the sworn enemy of Briavel. The friendship between Fergys and his king, Magnus, is as close as anyone could ever dream. When Fergys is mortally wounded, Magnus promises to raise young Wyl Thirsk with a twofold purpose: that Wyl will be properly prepared to take over as general of the Morgravian army, and that Wyl will form a similarly close bond with the future king, Prince Celimus.
Where Wyl is reserved, quiet and thoughtful, Celimus is equal parts boastful, dashing and spiteful. To the dismay of King Magnus, he knows that no such friendship will occur. In a show of great respect, Wyl vows that although he personally detests the future ruler, he will, in all ways, remain loyal.
Celimus, however, has other plans. He seeks war with Briavel, a forced marriage with Princess Valentyna whereby he will control all of the land south of the mountains, and he seeks to have Wyl killed. In an effort to demean his general, he forces Wyl to witness the torture and killing of Myrren, who has been accused of being a witch. Wyl, ever the chivalrous knight, seeks to ease her suffering and as Myrren is about to be burned at the stake, she grants her "gift" to Wyl: a great power to overcome death and seek justice.
What follows is nothing short of astonishing. McIntosh weaves a captivating web of action, escapes, and intrigue from which you cannot break free, and she hurls you forward with great skill and clarity.
What is great about this work is the completeness of the characters. Each of them seems to have full life, and their thoughts and actions on the page feel, ultimately, real and genuine. You are with Wyl as he endures the brutality and murderous bloodlust of Celimus just as much as you are when he weeps as he is held by Valentyna. Wyl is a true hero, living by his sense of duty and his desire for the right to be right and the wrong to be punished.
Celimus is everything you can wish for in revulsion. Though physically alluring, his soul, if he actually has one, is black and nothing short of evil. You know him to be a savage and heartless man and yet you still are taken aback as his plans begin to unfold. And those plans feel more sinister when he undertakes them with such joyousness.
There is a cast of assorted characters, including Valentyna, the young princess who must quickly grow into a woman, as she is thrust into the role of the sovereign before her time. She is a character who grows in strength as the story progresses, and as a reader you fear that Celimus will overtake her at every turn. Though young, she is not without skill, and her companions aid her along the way as they seek to save Briavel and foil Celimus.
To be sure, there is no one in this novel who does not suffer. Wyl suffers more than he should while Celimus doesn't suffer enough. But all of that is, no doubt, to plan, and will be meted out in proper fashion come the conclusion of the trilogy.
Having climbed to #1 bestseller status in Australia, Fiona McIntosh has written a truly inspired opening volley that will leave you itching for the second volume. For her U.S. fans (and she will have them), they will be pleased to learn that the remaining two volumes of this superb trilogy will be released before the end of the year. The wait mercifully will be short and yet well worth it.
MYRREN'S GIFT is a refreshing breath of fresh air in a genre that is becoming stale and clogged by multi-volume series. And if this book is any indication, Fiona McIntosh will be enjoying success throughout the world well beyond this series.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 12, 2011